The battle to overturn portions of the Republicans’ 2017 voter ID law raged on in a Polk County District Court trial several weeks ago. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and Iowa State University student Taylor Blair are challenging several key portions of the law. If LULAC and Blair are successful, the worst aspects of the law may be overturned.
The voter ID law restricted Iowa voting by requiring very specific, government-issued voter identification at the polls, changes in early voting and absentee voting requirements.
The June 2019 trial is a continuation of the suit filed in May 2018 by LULAC and Blair against Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate. Both LULAC and Blair have a vested interest in overturning the law since the Latino community and college students are two of the groups targeted by the Republicans’ voter suppression efforts.
LULAC is the largest and oldest Latino civil rights organization in the nation. ISU student Blair was serving as the Vice President of the College and Young Democrats of Iowa at the time the suit was filed in 2018.
Critics of the law contend it is part of a blatant Republican attempt to suppress the votes of minorities, college students, low income voters, the elderly and people with disabilities. In numerous states across the country, Republican governors, secretaries of state and state lawmakers have imposed various voter suppression measures. The Iowa Republicans’ 2017 law HF 516 is modeled after similar voter suppression efforts in other states.
In July of 2018, Polk County District Judge Karen Romano issued an injunction to prevent certain provision of the Republicans’ voter suppression bill from implementation. In late summer 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court allowed much of Judge Romano’s injunction to remain in place.
The June 2019 trial will hopefully resolve the remaining disputed portions of the law. LULAC is asking the court to strike down the law’s requirements for voter identification at the polls, the use of a voter ID number when applying for an absentee ballot and the rejection of absentee ballots because a voter’s signature doesn’t appear to match other election records.
It’s obvious this fight to protect Iowa voting rights isn’t over and Iowans owe a debt of gratitude to LULAC, Blair and the Washington D.C. law firm representing them. Priorities USA Foundation, a progressive advocacy group is funding their legal team. Priorities USA Foundation is affiliated with Priorities USA Action, a Democratic super PAC formed to help re-elect President Barack Obama in 2012.
Joe Henry, LULAC’s National Vice President for the Midwest, promised that if they lose in the current trial they will appeal it to the Supreme Court. It’s expected the District Judge will issue his ruling in the June trial sometime this fall. Last week, Henry emphasized the importance for the public to raise their voices in opposition to the voter ID law if this case reaches the Iowa Supreme Court.
The eventual decision will be politically significant since it’s estimated that the Republicans’ voter ID law potentially will disenfranchise as much as 10% of the effected population. That number could be the pivotal percentage in swinging close elections.
Professor Barry Burden, Director for the Election Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, presented voting data for Iowa at the trial. His data confirms the disproportionate disenfranchisement the Iowa voter ID law has based on race, age and ethnicity.
Iowa registered voters that lacked the required Iowa driver’s licenses or non-operator IDs were sent voter ID cards by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Secretary Paul Pate claimed this would remedy any voter from being turned away for lack of acceptable ID. Burden’s data exposed the disproportionate impediment these voter ID cards placed on Hispanic and black voters, as well as both the old and the young.
Pate’s voter ID cards are not a reliable substitute for driver’s licenses or non-operator IDs for several reasons. One of the reasons Taylor Blair was asked to participate in this lawsuit was his personal difficulty in voting. He didn’t have a driver’s license but failed to receive Pate’s voter ID card because it was sent to another voter with the same name. Blair’s case highlights just one of the flaws in the voter ID substitution.
Voter ID cards were mailed in December 2017, making them easy to lose or misplace. They were not identified as an essential requirement in order to vote in future elections. Some voters may have inadvertently misplaced them or thrown them away. Because voter ID cards are an unreliable substitute for traditional forms of identification, Burden’s data highlights the negative impact on certain voters.
Because a higher percentage of African-American and Hispanic voters lack driver’s licenses, more of them must utilize the Pate-issued voter ID cards. Over 16% of African-American and Hispanic voters rely on Pate’s voter ID cards. Likewise, older and younger voters must rely on voter ID cards since they may lack driver’s licenses as well. Over 12% of those over 81 years of age require voter ID cards and nearly 13% of 18-24 year olds require voter IDs.
Compare those higher percentage numbers to only 7% of white voters needing these substitute cards. It’s clear that if voter ID cards disenfranchise voters, they disenfranchise nearly twice the number of the minority classes.
According to Burden’s data, 10% of voters using ID cards failed to produce them in the 2018 election. He calculated that number by citing the number of voters that signed the oath rather showing their voter ID in the 2018 election. In the 2018 election, if a voter lacked the voter ID card they could sign an oath and still vote.
In the 2019 and 2020 elections, if the voter lacks the required ID, they must use a provisional ballot. The voter using a provisional ballot must then return to the county auditor’s office by the Monday following the election and prove their identity. This extra step will simply be too difficult, too time consuming or physically impossible for the effected voters to accomplish. Voters using provisional ballots are very unlikely to jump through these additional hoops, in effect, preventing them from voting.
As 10% of the effected classes, Hispanics, African Americans, the elderly and college age students will potentially be disenfranchised as a result. Burden conducted a similar study on Wisconsin’s voter ID law. He found over 11% of Wisconsin voters in two counties were deterred from voting in the 2016 election due to their voter ID law. He estimated that the Wisconsin voter ID law reduced total turn out by 1.2-2.2%.
ISU student Taylor Blair spoke to the frustration he encounters in assisting college students navigating the voting rules. He would prefer to talk about issues and candidates, but must spend an inordinate amount of time explaining the voting process.
“Every year, I have to spend more time not talking about those important things, but talking about just helping them figure out how to jump through hoops to get to the polls,” Blair said.
LULAC’s Joe Henry told Iowa Starting Line that LULAC spent countless hours and significant resources doing outreach to Latino voters in Iowa. They successfully achieved 70% registration and 80% participation among their voters in 2016 elections. Their goal is 80-90% participation in 2020. Henry expressed his frustration with the voter ID bill as an additional obstacle placed on their get-out-the-vote efforts.
“Voting should not be made complicated, it’s a constitutional right in Iowa,” said Henry. “To put restrictions on the right to vote is to limit the participation of the voter. This is wrong in so many ways.”
by Rick Smith